By Urglaawe reckoning, Berchtoldsdaag began at sunset on January 1 and ends at sunset tonight (January 2).
Berchtold, Berchtoldsdaag, Birth, and Rebirth
Berchtoldstag in Europe runs the entire calendar date of January 2, though there are years when it falls on a different date. Berchtholdstag is an Alemannic observance that takes place primarily in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Elsass (Alsace) and other areas where the population is primarily Alemannic. In Europe, the observance features some surviving traditions that were wiped out elsewhere by the Protestant Reformation. In Hallwil, in the canton of Aargau, people still dress up in costumes that symbolize fertility, age, ugliness, and vice. The parade participants are called Bärzeli.
One of the curious things about the Great Migration is that some of the aforementioned regions were large contributors to what became the Deitsch population. The Amish movement began in Switzerland and Alsace, so the best-known stereotype of the Pennsylvania Dutch is derived more from the Alemanni than from the Franks. My own family line has quite a few arrivals from Alemannic regions.
Berchtold has a scant presence in Deitsch lore collected over the last few years. All of the seven references that I have come from two places: the northern Deitscherei (Carbon and Monroe Counties in Pennsylvania) and the Ohio Deitscherei near Millersburg. Both of these areas had a significant migration with roots in Switzerland. Four of the people who provided any info had some Plain sectarian ancestry. Another approximately 10 to 12 interviewees either had heard the name Berchtold or Bechtel but knew nothing more.
Many sites make a connection between Berchtold and a saint, but just as many sites refute that saint connection and instead connect it to the verb "berchten," which means "to walk around asking for food." Such actions immediately make us think of Berchta (whose name actually means "bright," so we have a "chicken or the egg" quandary. It might well be that the verb with the meaning of asking for food was derived from Berchta's actions during Voryuul and Yuul.
Some folks consider whether the name Berchtold is a combination of Berchta and Holda, but the few who related anything about Berchtold were confident that He is a consort of Berchta.
Urglaawe Working Theories
Here's what we either know or are using as a working theory in Urglaawe. This is based on the lore and practices that survived (though not necessarily are intact) in Europe into the modern era combined with the tidbits turned up in the Deitscherei. This is heavily investigatory at this point.
- No one truly knows and can prove what happens prior to birth or after death. Some people might remember time in the womb, but, overall, the true mysteries of the human soul (for those of us who believe we each have at least one) relate to the arc of the cycle between death and rebirth.
- The true origins of some traditions (or remnants thereof) might be unrecoverable.
- Societies in which the dominant religion is most concerned with a finite existence in this realm and within linear time have a tendency to speculate frequently on what happens after death, but what happens prior to birth is of less concern. Religions that believe in (or at least give consideration to the possibility) that death is a transformation from one state of being to another frequently do give consideration to what happens prior to birth. For religions that believe in reincarnation, full-soul rebirth, or partial-soul rebirth, questions about the time between death and the preparation for the next life are critical to understanding the totality of existence.
- Yuul/Yuulzeit end at sunset on 1. Hadding (January 1 on the solar calendar and January 2 on the Urglaawe lunar calendar); that ending brings Berchtoldsdaag (or Bechtelsdaag) and the beginning of Noochyuul. Berchtoldsdaag has only been related as a one-day observance. Noochyuul is a "season" that continues to run until sunset on 1. Hanning (February 1 on the solar calendar or February 2 on the Urglaawe lunar calendar). At that time, Noochyuul ends and the twelve-night observance of Entschtanning begins, with Grundsaudaag (Groundhog Day) as the first holiday within the Entschtanning season.
- The uncertainty around the "Berchtold" of the observance leads us to go with the premise that, since these traditions are of pre-Christian origin, there is a possibility of a Germanic Heathen deity being involved. We are moving on the presumption that Berchtold is a Heathen god who is the consort of Berchta and who plays a role in some functions of the birth/rebirth phase of spirals and helixes of existence.
- There was a speculation by some interviewers that the allegory of the wheel of life puts Berchtoldsdaag in play at a moment that is already known in lore elsewhere: The end of Yuul brings about a change in observances and events that are derived from depictions of the Wild Hunt. Prior to Berchtoldsdaag, depictions of the Hunt are oriented toward death; costumes are dark and scary, etc. However, at and after Berchtoldsdaag, parades still involve strange and wild costumes, but the promise of life anew brings hope to the dead, and the depictions (some of which are now huge events with faint -- yet visible -- ties to their Heathen origins) tend to feature brightly colored costumes, joy, and music. Some of these parades and depictions are less about the Wild Hunt and more about recognition of the world around them in the moment they are in and/or are intended to strengthen the chances for survival.
- The cosmos are not beholden to our calendar, but calendars can help us to understand the greater mechanisms of the cosmos. For example, the use of a wheel of the year (es Yaahrsraad) as a metaphor to the cycle of life, death, and rebirth (es Lewesraad) is common in quite a few cultures, including within the understanding of time as non-linear among many Deitsch practitioners of the old ways. The Yaahrsraad underscores the complications of trying to jam linear time into a non-linear concept. The Yaahrsraad operates on a tilt. We have multiple "beginnings" on our linear calendar. Yuul is the beginning of the new solar year; the last day of Yuul is when the calendar flips to the new calendar year. At Berchtoldsdaag, the hope and promise of birth and rebirth set the stage for Entschtanning ("emergnce," or the "baby bump" phase of the birth/rebirth arc. Howeve, the definitive beginning of the new "spiritual year" for Urglaawer is Oschdre, or the Spring Equinox, when new life is free from the confines of the womb, the egg, or the chrysalis.
- The fact that the Wild Hunt is continuing even beyond Oschdre is a reflection of the fact that non-linear time does not have to begin, end, or ambulate by any dictations from creatures of only three dimensions (hearkening back to the Flatland and how two dimensional beings would interpret the three dimensional world).
- The depictions of the parades in Europe include some of the darker or less pleasant sides of the human experience. The rebirth phase of the Lewesraad is described as featuring the assembly of a new soul construct around the higher self and/or the Urleeg. Involved in the process of writing the Urleeg from one life to the next are the Wurthexe (cognates of the Wyrd Sisters or Norns). The Urleeg on the new soul construct is said to predispose one toward certain types of actions, although the application of the mind to improve one's Wurt is seen as one of the purposes of rebirth. Each lifetime is supposed to advance the human life wave on its evolution toward the perfected human. The perfected human, in short description, would be the achievement that the deities set out for us: to be at the end of this cosmic cycle where they were at the beginning of it.
- Thus, the working theory is that the depictions of human flaws and vice are important as part of the transmission of Urleeg and the need to learn from prior experience. Unfortunately, the experiences that a human has prior to birth or rebirth until about age 2 are largely inaccessible. Everything we have in any Germanic lore related to the arc of the cycle between death and rebirth is folkloric, which does not mean it is wrong. However, it does not automatically mean it is right, either. What if we Urglaawer are completely wrong (see the first paragraph with a “-“ in this post)? What if time really is finite and we are born to suffer and to die in a finite existence? In this post-modern era, we are fortunate enough to see indicators from science that time, space, energy, and existence are far more complex and amazing than anything other than metaphor has been able to explain until our technology became advanced enough to engage in quantifiable testing and observation. However, we still don't know a whole lot about ourselves.
- Working theory: Berchtold is a liminal god who is concerned with matters of Urleeg and construction of the soul. It is doubtful that He is alone in that function; if He were, more would likely have survived about Him as it did with Holle an Berchta. The process of sending souls through die Miehl is ongoing; the Wild Hunt's purpose is to seek lost souls and to put them back onto the Lewesraad, thus helping to increase human evolution. We observe the Wild Hunt from the end of Allelieweziel through Wonnezeit, but, in reality, people are dying and being born all the time. Thus, souls are being ground apart by the Mill and emerging on the other side, awaiting a new construct all the time. Pure speculation: Perhaps He, along with the Wurthexe, oversees the preparations for rebirth? What little information we have on Him does show some inclinations toward some of Berchta's areas of concerns, but She focuses on the ends of the cycle, announcing only the onset of the New Year, for example. Berchtold seems interest in what happens after the soul has passed through the Mill and death's power has receded. Perhaps He takes up the guardianship of the constructed souls during their time in Unnergegend? Might He oversee the application of Urleeg to the soul construct? Might he strive to teach lessons that should have been learned in prior lifetimes? This is pure speculation at this point, and some of it does not "feel" right intuitively.
I'd really like to go to Hallwil when the Bärzeli are walking. I just do not know enough about their traditions and what they mean to the collective unconscious or collective conscious of the modern Alemanni.
As you can see, we do have some information that leads us to hypotheses, but what follows each hypothesis still requires research. Our own experiences will shape the future, too. As a thriving community during this time of the Great Heathen Rebirth, we can make ourselves available to the deities and the ancestors. Many things lost to the past are unrecoverable, but we can learn a lot about the nature of Berchtold through our own experiences today.
Hail to Berchtold!
Addendum: Research Help Request
Does anyone happen to remember a Pennsylvania Dutch tale or an anecdote about a being called the Bechtel? The only thing I remember about the story specifically is that there was a man traveling a great distance (on foot, but skis might have played a role), and he got lost in a snowstorm. He encountered the Bechtel, and the rest I forget. The Bechtel did help him to get to his destination, though.
A bit more has come back to me. The Bechtel appears to be lost in the snow, too. He has no food or drink. The traveler had some food with him, and he offers to share some with the Bechtel. This rewards the traveler.